Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Have you read Francis Schaeffer?  Well, back in the seventies I was very interested in  what he wrote. There was one thing he pointed out to me that stuck.  He said, "If the God of the Christians did not exist in Trinity, I would still be an unbeliever."

He explained that his conviction was based on the idea of God as love.  God is love; God is also free under no compulsion, nor any necessity to do or think or behave in any way.  Because God is love, if He did not exist as multiple persons in one Godhead, then for God to be able to love, He would be under 'necessity' to create a creature to be the object of His love.  The idea that God is free would be sullied.  It is therefore 'necessary' that God exist as more than one person in order that He be free. Of course to use the word 'necessary' with respect to God is in itself fraought with difficulty.

Later, in reading St. Pavel Florensky, martyr of the Boshevik era, it came to me why God would of 'necessity' need to be a Triad rather than a Dyad.  If God existed as two persons, say Father and Son, then he would have the Son to love, but He would not be in principle free to chose the Son to love. He would only have the Son as His object of love.  however, with the Three, The Father not only has another to love, but is, in principle free to love the other or not because he always has the choice of the third where his love may be expressed.

More digressions on the Trinity.  Another foundational principle of the Godhead driven home principally in Orthodoxy is that the distance between God and the Creature is infinite, so that if a man can conceive of God as He is according to His inner being, His essence, then it is not God at all but a creation of human thought and reason, a part of creation, an idol.  The idea of the Trinity cannot be understand with reason or human thought, for the idea of the Trinity is 3=1, something we cannot comprehend. It is an antinomy. If we have a God who can be explained in his inner being in rational terms, He is not the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Paul and Peter, and Pavel Florensky- but is the God of our own imaginings, the God of the philosophers and not the God who is God. Vladimir Lossky makes this point in his fantastic book,  The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.
Some of Judaic orientation may remember the Shema, " the Lord thy God is One God", but the Hebrew word for One in this case, 'echod', means a composite unity (  see:  ,   and , and )  The idea of God as Trinity began in the Old Testament, but was not fully revealed until the New, in the Baptism of Christ.  As the troparion goes,  "When Christ was baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest."

Another way of saying this is that God in His transcendence exists in infinite distance from the creature.  And this brings us to another antinomy concerning the Godhead, that is chiefly in a repository of the Orthodox East.  While God is utterly unknowable in His Essence , He is profoundly knowable in His Energies.  The Energies of God being defined as the existence of God truly as Himself but outside of His Essence.
This is a distinction critical to thinking Christianity, if we wish to avoid all sorts of theological errors.  So here we have an antinomy- God is not knowable and God is knowable.  How both could be we have not a clue.  Here again is an antinomy that exists in the nature of the Godhead and for me, is an ,aha, moment- here is the God who is beyond all thought and sense experience , for the only way to talk about him is through the mystery of antinomy.  Here is the Gospel of the Cross, calling for us to die to our reasoning brain as we move beyond the cosmos that we can comprehend towards union with Him whom we cannot. 

At the high level of Western theology, the mark of this has been missed, principally because the West, Catholic and Protestant,  begin in their Theology with the Unity of the Godhead in the One Essence common to all three of the Persons.  the unity is then an impersonal absolute, not really much different from  Buddhism or Unitarianism and certainly within the realm of the thinking of philosophers and not the God of the antinomies, beyond all thought and sense experience.  This tendency reduces the three persons of the Trinity into modes or expressions of the One Essence, and the relationships between them become one of the categories of Aristotelean logic, that of relationship, and so become subject to philosophical manipluations, and, once again, is not the God Who Is.  Scripture and the Orthodox East preserve the Unity of the Godhead in the Father, who is the source both of the Son and of the Spirit, both without beginning, and also of the Essence which is imparted to the Son and the Spirit as well.  The modes of generation of the Son and the Spirit, begetting and proceeding are not relationships but simply indicate their being distinct persons. what begetting is and proceeding is, is not know. It exists in mystery.  So, the Father who is the Source, is the source of the Unity. The Unity is Personal.  And our calling then is to participate in the Communion of love that Exists between Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

Consequently our prayer life and our experience must be that of the Trinity in some way.  The experience of God is possible because, while He is unknowable in His Essence, He is knowable in His Energies and assimilable- the Energies being the same thing as Grace, or Divine Enabling,and also being that aspect of Divine Nature, spoken of by the Apostle Peter in his epistle as that of which we must become 'partakers'.   The economic mode of the Trinity, how God in His Divine Energies, comes to us, is that the Spirit manifests the Son, who in turn shows us the Father.  (Economia, in the East, is talk about God in His Theophanies or manifestations; whereas Theologia, is the thought about Him concerning His Essence)
This means that our prayer experience to be fully Christian must also be an experience of the Trinity.  When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the Orthodox song goes, the worship of the Trinity was manifest.
When we first are drawn by the Gospel, we see Jesus, in all his incarnate glory, and then we see His passion, his death, resurrection and ascension.  And If we get it, we get a personal relationship to Jesus, enabled by the Spirit.  Road to Emmaus.  But a funny thing happens after forty days. Christ ascends to the Father.  For us who have been baptized into Christ, this returning to the Father, must become in prayer an existential reality. For the Son is always returning to the Father, and in Him it is His purpose for us to return to the Father as well. Well, a return to the Father is a return towards the Essential existence of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and the practical consequence is that such a return is a return into a 'Stillness.' the Son is ever taking us back to the Stillness of the Father.  And there we have some classical mystics camping out-  The Unknowing-  and so forth, of a few.  Also the comment by St. Ignatius the Godbearer in the First century, "those who have truly acquired the word of Jesus must go on to know His stillness so as to be perfect."

This is the "Be Still" of the Psalms. It is the Secret Place of the Most High.  There are 'places' in the Most High that we experience before entering the Stillness, but They are the experiences of His energies- of the release of forgiven sins, of comforts in distress, of consolations, of feelings of love and Divine Providences.  But the Stillness is an all together different place.
Since the Stillness is Beyond Word it is also beyond the experience of most who must have everything spelled out in detail in Scripture; it does not lend itself easily to words, and so usually exists within the Tradition of the Ancient churches- chiefly within the monastic Traditions.  the Coptics have it.  The Catholics sort of have it, in a distorted way, but it is there with some problems.  the Orthodox have it.  Yet Scripture itself calls us to obey the Traditions whether by Word or by Epistle.  And point out that the Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth.  In fact, Christ never promised a New Canon upon which to base anything. He promised a Church, and an indefectible Church because it was to be His Body.  It's inerrance, therefore was not because there was a Book over it to keep it in check, nor a Pope over it to keep it in check, but a Holy Spirit within it to keep it in all the Truth and a Communion with the Blood of Christ that would keep it within the Truth- The Church would be kept by Communion with the Life of God.  Since the Truth is a Person, the Incarnate One, His Body is the only acceptable locus where all the Fullness of Truth exist and be preserved.

So the Tradition of the Stillness that is a vital part of Christian prayer and experience is an open secret that is preserved amongst those dedicated chiefly to practicing it- the monks.  Therefore, for me it is a great tragedy when any Christian Body does not have monks, engaged full time in prayer.  Luther rejected the monks and if you have ever been around Lutherans, or studied their history, it is so terribly obvious.  In the 19th Century there was only one pastor who excelled in the mystical life, Blumhardt was his name, if I remember correctly.  And in reaction to German scholasticism, head religion, emerged pietism, as a reaction to dead Church life, which morphed later into revivalism and into evangelicalism of the mid Twentieth Century and now is find another metamorphosis in the spiritual formation movement which is a reformation of evangelical piestism, never find its proper incarnation in the life of a Church whose very mode of being nurtures the mystical and gives it objective boundaries, and shapes properly the mind of those who yearn for the mystical depths, so that their seekings and explorations do not go astray but return to the ever-renewing life of the Trinity.

Then these thoughts.  The 'problem' in the Catholic West as far as communicating about its msyticism exist because the scholasticism of St. Thomas who continued to insist along with St. Augustine that grace was a creature, thereby removing from us the very possibility of the experience of God. In, in addition to that, he shifted the organ of revelation to the intelligence, the thinking aspects of the brain, rather than the "Orthodox" nous, the eye of the heart, bringing theology down into the domain of philosophy,rather than those things written by those who pray.  Although they talk about their experience it is a distinct thought world from their theologizing so it seems to me.  And as the evangelicals import spiritual techologies into their Chritianity, chiefly from the mystical Traditions of the West, they will eventually come up short attempting to explain what is going on, and there will be the inevitable conflicts as those with pockets of Orthodox doctrine collide with those who are following their experience and without the words or tradition that make the two a whole.  So, I see, for example, conflicts on the ACU Facebook page, people decrying the wholesale capitulation of ACU to the Spiritual Formation movement and resorting to 'lighthouse trails' sort of materials to rebut the tendency.  Lord have mercy.
The whole problem is the problem of trying to transplant one Organ of the ancient Church into a body that is not complementary to it.  It is, in fact, the whole problem of the tribulation of Western Christianity.  The Incarnational nature of the Church was forever lost at the time of the Great Schism/Reformation event and everhereafter exists in a paroxysm of agony suspended from an over-active reasoning brain, and a lost wandering nous seeking somewhere to land. Lord, have mercy

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